Wrinkle in time

Mandatory techno-babble disclaimer: Recently, for a brief interval, a small wormhole appeared in my writing studio, and I witnessed one dimension’s version of what in this time bubble will be tomorrow’s Q&A with Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas. Unfortunately, the powerful forces of dark matter interwoven with the non-Euclidean spacetime continuum closed before I could write down everything. I hate it when that happens!

Lore. Hello, everyone, and welcome to our Q&A session with Ion Hazzikostas, Game Director for World of Warcraft. Ion, thanks for taking the time to be with us today.

Ion. Sure, I love doing this! (*moves aside, warily looking up to see if lightning bolt is imminent*)

Lore. Okay, let’s get to our first question, drawn totally at random from the thousands we received via the forum and twitter. This one is from Kisstush who asks, “Can you please give us 3 reasons why Battle for Azeroth will be the absolute best expansion ever?” I might add, this was a very popular question!

Ion. Well, I am really glad that one came up, because I just happen to have *garbled*

at this point the wormhole wavered a bit and I lost the thread, but honestly no one wanted to hear that canned answer anyway. Transmission restored itself after what seems to have been a 20-minute gap (time estimate adjusted for non-Euclidean etc….)

Lore. Okay, great. Our second question — another really popular one — comes from Nerdbore: “Could you explain how the BfA story fits in with the Old Gods, Betrayal of Sargeras leading to the Sundering and The Emerald Dream, Hogger, Arathor’s wars on the trolls, the Dark Portal opening, Pepe, the rift of Draenor, rediscovery of the Pandaren, Sylvanas, the Rise of RNG, Anduin, Deathwing, Li-Li, and space ships to Argus? I think I understand it all except the Argus part.”

Ion. Horde kill Alliance. Alliance kill Horde. Seems clear enough. Next question?

Lore. This is from Wrxtfglmzq — I apologize if I didn’t pronounce that right — who asks, “Please tell us how AWESOME PvP will be in BfA and why everyone should just love it to pieces.”

Ion. (Another garbled transmission.) I love all the excitement about PvP! So, we tried …. champion status …. nerf every PvE ability to compensate … ladders … War Mode …. PvP big bonus for leveling … players who don’t do PvP are wusses … PvP is great and you WILL love it … Special gear …. RNG feels bad for PvP gear …. tokens …. of course no one will gank you … fun! … fun! … fun!

(estimated 20 minutes later)

Lore. Awesome! I have always loved PvP! And so will everyone now! I remember one time I was in a battleground and (ok this part was not garbled, but it was so freaking boring I tuned out).

(10 minutes later, when stupid anecdote finally ended)

Ion. Ha ha. Great story!

Lore. Yeah, good times. Moving on, this question is from Fashunhead. “Please give us a hint about what new Allied races we will see, and what their hair and ears and noses will look like and will they have to-die-for armor.”

Ion. We are really pleased with the response so far to Allied races, and we actually see them as a terrific money-maker and player time sink (I was getting some weird interdimensional skips here, apparently from the truth-telling dimension) great game feature going forward. Our plan is to make leveling them even more tedious and boring engaging, make racial armor much more difficult to get race-specific, and offer additional expensive cosmetic changes through the Blizzard store. Yes, dressing up our dollies is a really fun feature of the game, unlike that sissy idea of player housing!

Lore. Well, gosh, the time really has flown by. I think we only have time for one more quick question. This is from Srsplaya. “What is your plan going forward for balancing classes? How much adjustment will we see for each class before BfA goes live?”

Ion. Wow, yeah, great question. Let me say this about it. We are committed to garbled garbled garbled class fantasy garbled garbled tanks in PvP garbled garbled unique garbled hunters in a good place garbled static.

Lore. That’s all the time we have for today, I hope you have all enjoyed our Q&A – some terrific questions! Until next time. (Fade to black.)

Ion. (Off camera) WTF, man, how did you let that class balance question through?

At this point the wormhole seemed to close completely. I guess tomorrow we will see if it was a view into our own dimension or one of the infinite others.

Battle for Azeroth – more observations

Look at the title – if you don’t want to know, don’t read.

Yesterday I spent several hours on the Battle for Azeroth beta with my copied main BM hunter. In general, it was a positive experience (with some reservations). I took my time, but even so it only took me about 8 hours to get to level 112. Along the way I noted a few things.

Artwork. Once again, I think Blizz has outdone themselves in the artwork for this expansion. Prepare to be blown away with the detail and variation of the new zones. Towards the end of Legion, it struck me that Blizz was pretty much just mailing it in when it came to Broken Shore and Argus — feel pools, lava, and rocks seemed to be the extent of their effort. But Kul Tiras is rich, varied, and there has been a great deal of attention to detail. With the exception of my first “foothold” mission, I have not quested in the Horde starter zones of Zandalar, but from what I have seen, those areas, too, are exceptional.

I won’t deny that some parts of the new zones look suspiciously like recoloring of existing areas (is Boralus really just Suramar City reskinned?), but at least if that is the case, it has been done well. On a personal note, I am dismayed by what seems to be too many dark, gloomy regions — I prefer bright, sun-filled ones — but that is a personal preference, not a flaw in the artwork.

Intro scenario. The introduction to Battle for Azeroth — basically what everyone will be doing initially on launch day — is similarly well done. As most of you know, I am not a lore person, but to me the story was well told, hung together, and serves well as an introduction to the factors that will be recurring themes as BfA unfolds. And there really are some fun bits, including piling into mechanical devices and mowing down vast swaths of mobs.

It is, however, quite long and drawn out. As with most mechanics, it is interesting the first time through, but I think will not wear well at all more than once. I hope Blizz will offer a vastly abbreviated version for players’ alts once they have taken one character completely through it. As it is, even in the beta, they have given players the choice to skip the additional introduction to Kul Tiras — if you do that plus the first (currently mandatory) scenario, it is at least a couple hours before you can even start questing for real.

Handy and not so handy supplies. By all means, stock up on Goblin Gliders before you start. They work in BfA and are exceptionally useful when you need to get to a distant point below where you are — they really can cut down on travel time under the right circumstances, and there seem to be a lot of those circumstances.

Also go ahead and bring your special foods, flasks, and potions from Legion. I don’t know how long they will be effective in BfA, but they certainly are helpful at least during early leveling. I think a half stack of each would be plenty, but if you use them a lot then a whole stack might be better. They will end up at some point just being vendor trash anyway.

Do not bother with the crafted leather bardings that keep you from being dazed off your mount in Legion. They do not work in BfA. I learned this the hard way. Also, that handy little Lightforged Augment Rune you can buy from the Army of the Light in Antorus changes to be ineffective above level 109. I did not try the regular consumable Augment Runes, but I assume they are the same. You won’t need them, get rid of them.

Gear. If you are fairly well geared in Legion, your gear should last several levels in BfA before you will need to equip most gear drops from quests. The exception is your Azerite gear, which you get very early in the introduction quests.

For those of you unfamiliar with the special gear in BfA, it works very basically like this: Early on you get a neckpiece, the Heart of Azeroth, that you will keep the entire expansion. Its function is to absorb Azerite as you obtain it through various means. (The neckpiece itself seems to increase in ilevel rather automatically.) Once it absorbs a certain amount of Azerite, it will empower a new trait in one of the pieces of actual Azerite-powered gear you will collect.

You get an early quest that awards one piece of Azerite gear — you can pick helm, shoulders, or chest (I think). So your first accumulations of Azerite will go to empower the traits on this piece of gear. Like the neck piece, you will likely keep this piece throughout the expansion. Other pieces (up to a total of 3 equipped) are eventually obtained through raids and dungeons as loot. (It’s not clear to me yet if you can actually obtain more than 3 pieces and equip only 3, or if switching them out is a good idea even if you can.)

So, on a simple level, what BfA does is automate the legion AP/artifact mechanisms and spread them out among 3 pieces of gear plus an enabler piece. The neckpiece really is just a way to keep track of Azerite, and it eliminates the need to actually collect AP gizmos and click on them. The amount of Azerite needed for gear traits will of course increase exponentially with each trait, just like the AP requirements in Legion. Your action bars will include a tweak to the AP/artifact bar that will keep track of how long until your next Azerite trait upgrade.

If you want more detailed information on this gear in BfA, check out the Wowhead guide on it.

Your artifact weapon will transfer to BfA with you, basically as just a weapon with a relatively high ilevel.

The other gear thing to be aware of is how legendaries seem to work. Your legendaries will also transfer with you, again as gear with relatively high levels. But unlike artifact weapons, legendaries do retain at least some variation of their unique abilities from Legion. (Up until level 115, I believe.) So do tier pieces. So as you prepare for BfA you may want to give some thought to the relative value of legendary and tier bonuses, and how important these are to you in the early stages of leveling. Once you have decided that, then factor in that you will get one major piece of Azerite gear right away, and you will want to decide how or if that requires you to restructure your equipped Legion tier and legendaries.

As I said, I reached level 112 fairly quickly. My ilevel going in from Legion was 964, with 4-pc tier 21. So far most of the quest gear is just vendor trash for me, except of course for the Azerite piece and the neck piece. Towards the end of level 111 I did get a piece that made me dump one piece of tier, and I suspect by the time I reach 113 I will be replacing my Legion gear more often. Obviously, my lesser-geared alts will start dumping gear earlier.

Professions. As I suspected, if you start BfA with level 800 professions, it looks like Blizz will give you credit for the now-separate profession leveling from other expansions. The beta still has a few profession bugs in it, but that’s what it looks like. You will level to 150 (or 155??) for BfA, so even though it is a bit of a surprise to see your profession start at level 1 again, it seems like it will be a reasonable change. Gathering professions seem quick, and I am somewhere around 135 already on my skinner. No clue yet if herbalism and mining will be as fast. I have not yet done any leatherworking quests, although I do already have a couple in my quest list. So I don’t yet have a feel for how long and involved they may eventually be.

BM hunter. This post is not really about hunter specifics, but so far I think the experience is a mixed bag. On the one hand, BfA does seem to give us more decision options and thus more interesting play, but honestly most of that comes from an automatic switch to what we used to call the Dire Frenzy build in Legion.

Overall, the addition of  global cooldowns to hunter shots/commands that have not had them makes the play style seem somewhat clunky and slow, even given that BM hunters have all instant casts. The global cooldown going from 1.0 sec to 1.5 sec unhasted makes it even worse. Things that were off the GCD in Legion — like Bestial Wrath — are now on it, and I was amazed at how much slower and clunkier this change makes BM play seem.

The other really crappy thing about talents is the Hati replacement talent, Animal Companion. This simply has to change before BfA goes live, because as it now stands it is pretty effing useless. The additional pet has no pet special abilities (does only auto attack), does not share in Beast Cleave or Bestial Wrath, appears a few seconds after your main pet is summoned, has major pathing problems, seems to be back to the ambling mode when going to a target, and does not even camouflage itself when you do (resulting in unintended pulls).

I said it simply must change, but unfortunately we all know Blizz does not give a rat’s ass about hunters — especially BM hunters — and thus I would bet a week’s worth of gold that nothing will change. What we have is what we will get, because Blizz is clearly back to the mode of being pissy about getting pressure to give us some semblance of our artifact abilities — which they have happily and willingly done for many other classes, I might add — so they have reverted to their standard approach best summarized as, “Oh, ALL RIGHT! There. Now you got Hati so sit the eff down and shut up.”

Blizz remains uncomfortable with giving BM hunters any significant pet power, despite their fancy words on how committed they are to class and spec “fantasy”. Well, except for making Beast Master hunters actual masters of beasts, that is…..

Okay, that is enough bitching for a Monday. Overall, I am relatively pleased with what I have seen about BfA. I have not yet tried any War Fronts or Islands, but the leveling process seems solid. Of course, the initial leveling in any expansion is one of Blizz’s best design features, so we will see how the expansion eventually unfolds. I hope they learned a lesson about the eternal AP grind in Legion and will make the Azerite-gathering more pleasing in BfA. Of course we will have to grind it throughout the expansion — how else will they keep their MAU metrics going? — but maybe, fingers crossed, they have figured out a way to make it seem less onerous.

Battle for Azeroth developments

Spoiler Alert: Don’t read this if — oh what the hell, it’s not like I’m giving away the ending to The Sopranos or anything.

I don’t know about you, but the news from Blizz on Battle for Azeroth has seemed to me to alternate between fire hose and last-trickle-of-water-from-the-canteen levels. The last day or two has been the former. So let me dig in with a few comments, in no particular order.

Battle for Azeroth will launch at exactly the same time everywhere on earth. No more chance for anyone to whine that Blizz loves EU or NA or whatever best. Specifically, it will launch at 3PM Pacific time on August 13th, which because of the Prime Meridian or Vasco da Gama or sidereal slant or something is actually August 14th in some parts of the world, which in spite of it sounding like being a day later is exactly the same time as August 13th, and now my head hurts. Anyway, just accept it on faith that there will be a simultaneous launch of BfA everywhere on the planet.

Not to sound too much like a pessimist or to put any ideas into anyone’s head, but holy moley does this sound like a golden opportunity for hackers to earn their wings by bringing down the entire game all over the world. And while Blizz has made some respectable strides over the past couple of years in fending off mass denial of service attacks, this announcement just feels like they are taunting the evil-doers in the world. And, let’s be honest, even if there are no successful outside attacks, Blizz has in the past demonstrated their own genius for crashing their servers their very own selves under heavy use.

Outside of the potential for technical disaster, many players are welcoming this simultaneous-launch announcement. For me, in Virginia, it means BfA will launch at 6 PM on Monday August 13th. I am strangely annoyed by this, even though probably lots of people would love it since it might mean they will be home from work and not have to call in “sick” *cough cough snuffle snuffle*.

Why don’t I like it? Well, sort of personal tradition. I have mentioned before that on launch day I really get a kick out of getting up around 1 or 2 AM, brewing a pot of coffee, getting on voice chat with guildies, and munching cereal while we all indulge our inner children by gleefully anticipating the launch like kids just before Christmas. We always joke about how many of us are still in our jammies, and of course there are the inevitable references to “Ummm, yeah, sure, ‘jammies’…”

To think this year it will mainly be a matter of scheduling dedicated computer time late in the day just does not seem as exciting for some reason. I know Blizz thinks this is a technological breakthrough for them, and I suppose if they can pull it off it will be hailed as such, but for me I feel like they have taken the specialness out of it. Maybe if they had stuck to simultaneous launch with something like 4 or 5AM Pacific time as the benchmark rather than the very mundane 3 PM… I guess they did not want to have to pay premium night rates to their techs, who knows.

Also big news is that today’s BfA beta build will finally allow character import, something many have not-so-patiently waited for now for a couple of weeks. I don’t think it is that big of a deal, personally, but it does allow some advantages. For one thing, it will mean we can see how level-800 professions transfer to the new profession system, rather than just experiencing what it is like to start a new profession in BfA. Also, presumably, a character’s mounts and pets will finally be available instead of the generic few allowed to this point. Possibly also a character’s transmog will now be visible instead of the hodgepodge look the generated characters have.

We will see the BfA effects on our regular character’s stats and legendaries. People used to several million health, high numbers for secondary stats, and a gear level at 950 or even higher will see all these numbers significantly squished. Similarly, people used to doing, say 1 or 2 million damage will see numbers far lower. Blizz has done this before, of course, so we should be used to it, but for some it is a big shock.

Of somewhat more interest to me is how Blizz will handle the stat squish in the pre-expansion patch, when we will still technically be in Legion. It might be easier to deal with now that there is widespread dynamic leveling technology in the game, but I suspect there will still be a large number of bugs — getting killed by a single imp, for example, or trash single-shotting the whole raid.

And not exactly BfA-specific, but what the hell is it with Death Knights? It seems like every time Blizz announces any change to classes or talents, there is like a page and a half of DK changes, and other classes will have one or two lines if that. I am talking about every single time, for a couple of years now. Sheesh, it’s like the infinite monkeys with typewriters thing — eventually you would think Blizz would get DKs straightened out, even if by sheer random fumbling.

Though I have not run any hardcore numbers, I am still hopeful for the future of BM hunters in BfA. I admit I hate the one-size-fits-all pet changes, and I am pretty pissed that Blizz promised us Tranq shot again then pulled it away, and that they hugely nerfed binding shot. Also, it strikes me that all the hunter “raid buffs” are pretty skimpy. They seem to be just backups in case the raid does not have any of the “real” classes that provide them. There seems very little unique to BM hunters (except possibly for PvP with Master’s Call), certainly not enough that would cause raid leaders to think of hunters in any way except as some added dps, and probably fairly mediocre dps at that. If, as Blizz claims, they want to put more emphasis on what makes a class unique, I am just not seeing that for hunters. If we do not bring any unique and useful raid buffs, then it seems to me that our value would need to be in top damage numbers, but so far anyway that does not seem to be the case.

(And not for nothin’, but what exactly was so terrible about Aspect of the Fox, the hunter-unique raid buff back in WoD that lasted approximately 20 minutes before Blizz — horrified — realized they had mistakenly given hunters an actual useful raid buff and quickly eliminated it. Whew! Any semblance of hunter raid uniqueness was narrowly averted, but it was a close call!)

Nevertheless, I have seen enough incremental changes to BM hunter for BfA to be just a tiny bit hopeful the spec will be viable.

Last but not least, if character copy is now available on the beta, that tells me the PTR cannot be far behind, which is a good thing. It will not be long before we hear Blizz plead for a lot of PTR logins so they can give the system a decent stress test. One hopes it will be sufficient to let them work out the inevitable crash points we are likely to encounter the day the entire world logs in to Battle for Azeroth.

With these scattered thoughts, it is time for a weekend. See you on the other side.

I am NOT prepared

Panic buttonIn guild talk last night, someone pointed out it is 10 weeks until Battle for Azeroth goes live. I know that sounds like a lot of time, but when I began to mentally list the things I want to get done before then, my brain began to yammer, “Sound General Quarters! AWOOOOGA! AWOOOOGA!”

BfA release in 10 weeks means we will likely see the pre-expansion patch about a month before the new expansion, or 6 weeks from now. For me, the pre-expansion patch is the effective end of the current expansion, because that is when I make the adjustments to become familiar with the class changes — change out WeakAuras as necessary, take a look at the numbers behind secondary stats, and spend time at the target dummies to develop some new muscle memory. Then I follow this with a few LFR or guild runs through some of the raid tiers to be fairly proficient when the new expansion drops.

But before I start this whole process, I like to feel each of my characters is as caught up in the game as possible. That usually means:

  • Banks and bags are cleaned out and tidied
  • Professions are maxed
  • Gear level is as high as possible for as much as I play each one
  • The spec is the one I expect to level with in the next expansion
  • Any important achievements are done (example in Legion: class mount)

As you might imagine, while this list is not very long, it has a lot of what we used to call “implied missions” for each item. For example, to know which spec I want to level with for each character, I need to do some research to get a few hints about what might be the most fun and/or “best” spec in BfA. That will include some reading as well as a few beta (or soon PTR) test runs in order to decide. Maxing professions would seem to be straightforward, but it almost always involves switching a few around, and of course it takes time to level these new ones up. That is if I decide to level them up — they can still take full part in BfA professions without leveling them up now.

Cleaning out bags and banks is nothing more than tedious. Usually I do not do it far enough in advance to make any real gold in the auction house, what with everyone else cleaning out their stuff, too. So it generally involves a lot of vendoring and mailing around. The mailing occurs when I decide which alt should be the main keeper of whatever mats I decide to save. Sometimes it is obvious, other times not so much. My main hunter is a LW/skinner, but honestly she has so much other junk in her bank that it is not feasible for her to keep all the current leather along with stocks of classic leathers that come in handy. So those go to my bank alt.

I would really love to see an account-wide shared bank tab in this game, but it does not look like it is in the cards any time soon. It would save so much tedious busywork. You would not, of course, be able to put soulbound items in there, but everything else would be so great to have access to by everyone. And while I am on the subject, it seems like it is time to end the small-guild restrictions on bank tabs. (I am talking about the single-member guilds many of us have just for our bank alt.) Why not allow more tabs for these guilds — go ahead and charge the same as for regular guild additional tabs? I suspect it has something to do with meta-storage in the servers, but still it would go a long ways to improving quality of life for many players.

Of course, the other big thing I still need to do is decide what my main will be in BfA. In all likelihood I will end up still as a BM hunter, but for the first time ever I am seriously considering a class switch for main. At this point I have narrowed it down to druid (balance/resto), monk (windwalker/mistweaver), or mage (pick a spec). While WW monk is fantastically fun to play in BfA, our guild already has too many melee raiders, and in the final analysis I really prefer ranged play. I have not looked into MW monk for BfA, so I do not know if that would be a decent raid option if I went with monk as a main.

I really enjoy resto druid play — the mobility strikes me as sort of a hunter style, which I like. But I am not sure about Balance changes in BfA — the one thing I have always hated about them is the excruciatingly long cast times for most spells, combined with the wimpiness of the small number of instant casts. Clearly, more research is needed on my part.

My mage — well, I have got her to artifact level 75 in all specs, and I find each of them engaging to play, though I would say fire is far and above my favorite, followed by frost, with arcane a somewhat distant third. At least in Legion, both fire and frost have quite a lot of mobility, but I have not rolled a mage in the beta yet, so I have no clue what may change, if anything. (My bet is no major changes, since it is well known that Blizz loves mages best!)

Still, if I had to bet, I would bet I will keep my hunter main for BfA. It is, after all, the class I love best in the game and the one I have loved ever since I started to play. But it doesn’t hurt to at least consider a different path.

So, while it may not be quite time yet to push the panic button, my finger is definitely hovering over it. We rally have only about 6 more weeks of Legion left before 8.0 is released. At that point for all practical purposes we will have begun Battle for Azeroth. So much to do, so little time!

Garrisons revisited

A couple of years ago, during Warlords of Draenor, anyone reading this blog would likely have been treated to a rant about how badly Blizz screwed up the whole garrison idea. Garrisons had become a second job, they made the game seem about as fun as spending your weekends cleaning house and mowing the lawn, they were the main cause the social aspect of the game was deteriorating, yada yada yada.

Well.

Last week I was doing some profession switching in preparation for Battle for Azeroth, making sure I had one of each crafting profession and getting most of them to level 800 before August. Recall that in BfA, you will level only the current profession recipes, and if you want to go back and learn recipes from earlier expansions there is a mechanism for doing those separately. My hope is that if you start BfA with a level 800 profession, you will not have to go back to learn the earlier stuff, you will automatically get credit for it. That’s how it should work, but I long ago learned not to count on Blizz to do the logical thing.

At any rate, while grinding out skill-ups, I rediscovered the usefulness of the WoD garrison. It is, of course, required if you want to learn the WoD crafting recipes, but it is especially terrific for leveling gathering professions — herbs, mining, even fish. (It is less useful for leveling skinning. But skinning is quick to level anyway.)

The key for leveling gathering professions is to get a level 3 mine or herb garden. (You can increase the number of work orders by assigning a champion to work in them, and also by getting a level 3 storehouse, but those things do not help you level up, only the actual gathering does.) Additionally, if you apply a small amount of effort, you can get a bank and an auction house, making it easy to dispose of your gathered materials without having to commute somewhere. (There are also vendors in the garrison if you just want to vendor your stuff.) Last, since all of Draenor is just outside your garrison, once you have gathered the daily take from your mine or herb garden, you can easily keep leveling, up to 700, by running gathering routes just outside your garrison gate. What’s not to love? Oh, and of course, you can get to your garrison with the special hearthstone, and if you need to run back to Stormwind for something and your Dal hearthstone is on cooldown, you can portal to Stormshield via your level 3 garrison tower in the back and from there quickly portal to Stormwind and a couple of other cities.

So the leveling potential in my garrison was kind of a forehead-slapping moment once it percolated through my brain. What I did not anticipate was the comfortable, homey feeling I would get when I went back. Seriously, it was like when you have been traveling for a long time and finally get home and kick off your shoes and sink into your favorite chair — “Ahhhhh”. I just would not have expected myself to have that kind of reaction, given how much I disliked garrisons when they were current.

Ever since Mists, I have considered my little Sunsong Ranch to be “home” for my characters. I always liked the cozy small room with the bed and neat shelves and bubbly stew on the stove, and to this day I frequently take a character there to spend the night or a couple of weeks if I know I won’t be logging in on them for a bit. It’s silly, I know, but somewhere in the back of my mind I feel good knowing they are in their own little place, snug and safe. This is the reason I have always gone to the trouble to become exalted (besties) with all the Tillers and have done the full Sunsong Ranch quest line on every alt.  I really value that little one-room place that is your character’s very own.

But now that garrisons are in the rear view mirror and I have had some time to distance myself from them, I am finding that I have similar feelings about them. While the Town Hall is not generally what I would describe as “cozy”, it does have a certain appeal — some of my characters have spent many a night sitting by the fire in the mission room, where I imagine they have come in weary and cold and pulled off their boots and clammy socks and warmed their feet while sipping a hot toddy, and fallen asleep in the chair because they were too exhausted to find a bed.

I also really enjoyed standing at the garrison gate and watching my champions walk out to start their missions — in my opinion this was one of the most clever mechanics in WoD. I really got a kick out of waving them goodbye, watching them march off in twos and threes to fight the good fight.

Upon occasion, I have also commandeered the gardener’s cottage in the herb garden. In my opinion, this would be a perfect and easy way to give players some housing — just kick the gardener out and put up a “Commander’s Residence” sign in the front, maybe add in a couple of quest lines to get some decorations for the inside. That way, Blizz can claim they are really not giving in on player housing (since they would not be adding much new), and players could actually have a house, everybody wins. They will not do this, of course, because they are stubborn shitheads, but still it is a nice idea.

I suppose almost anything looks better in retrospect, after all we generally like to forget the bad parts of experiences and remember the good parts. I suspect my newfound nostalgia for garrisons is part of the same foggy hindsight driving the desire of some players to go back to a classic WoW experience — I choose not to remember the parts I hated and instead remember only the sitting-by-the fire contentment. Of course, it also helps that now when I visit my garrison it is completely voluntary — I do not feel like Blizz is demanding I participate in a certain end game play style, because, well, it is no longer the end game part. I admit that I am prone to a certain amount of bull-headedness, too, in that the more I feel like I am being required to do something, the less I want to do it, even if left to my own resources I might actually like the activity. That is stupid and illogical, but there it is. (Yeah, for those of you wondering, I was like that in my soldier days, too, resulting in me being considered either an “independent thinker” or a “troublemaker”, depending on the commander I worked for. I actually valued both labels.)

So, as we draw closer to a new expansion, I am learning to love one of the previous ones. If that means my rear view mirror is smudged, I really don’t feel like cleaning it.

 

Memorial Day

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This is a game blog, and I studiously try to avoid making it anything else. But each year I post a Memorial Day message, because I used to be a soldier, and some of my brothers and sisters in arms are gone from us forever because they made the greatest sacrifice a human can. I miss them. After all these years, I cannot think of them without crying. What follows, with a few edits for currency, is what I posted last year.

I’ll be taking a short early summer break next week, be back Monday, June 4.

This is a long weekend in the U.S., the semi-official start of summer, and in typical American fashion we celebrate it with cookouts and beer and beach time and big sales in the stores. When we all go back to work on Tuesday, it will be with a slightly more laid back attitude because it will be summer and we like to think our grownup selves can in some small way recapture those childhood days when summer vacation was the most glorious freedom we could imagine.

Every year at this time I take a break from my WoW writing to be a bit more serious. Memorial Day is for me one of the most sacred holidays we have. It is a time to remember those who gave everything in service to our nation — the people, young and not-so-young, who sacrificed their tomorrows so that we could have our long carefree summers. Each of them was the most important person in the world to someone, they were fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers and sons and daughters, and their passing left ineradicable sadness in the lives of those who loved them. Some of them died performing truly heroic acts, and some of them died just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but all of them died because they had decided to live a life of service, because duty and honor were not just words but a way of life for them.

Politicians will come out in force this weekend. They will stand in front of masses of red-white-and-blue bunting and speechify about our military “heroes”, and they will wear their stupid little American flag lapel pins to advertise their “patriotism”, and their sound bite phrases about “duty” and “honor” will elicit cheers from their audiences and be replayed on the news shows. I suppose that is all to be expected. But I hope that these politicians — the Representatives and Senators who have the power to declare war and the President who can send our military into harm’s way on a moment’s notice — will privately take a moment to reflect on the unimaginable responsibility they bear.

I hope they will be humbled and awed and trembling at the power they have to send Americans to their deaths. I hope they understand what they are threatening when they boast and taunt other nations with the power of our military. When they give their grand speeches, I hope that somewhere in the backs of their minds are images of our national cemeteries, of the long rows of headstones standing in eternal and perfect formation, each with a cross or star or crescent, each a focal point of grief for someone who loved a soldier beyond all imagining.

Somehow, these words, spoken long ago by a President who shouldered the awesome burden of his office with humility and crushing sadness, still seem relevant:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Have a good weekend. Enjoy your cookouts.

End game games

The last week or so I have been working on making my Void Elf mage actually viable for end game play. I have come to the conclusion that it is a seriously flawed process in Legion, and I fear the general framework will be repeated in Battle for Azeroth.

OK, let me explain.

First, it has always been the case that once you reach max level in an expansion there are some things left for you to do in order to reach “real” max level — higher level gear, that one special weapon, maxing out professions, progressing through raid tiers and/or PvP stuff, maybe getting some mounts or high level achievements. For many, these end game activities are where most of the game’s fun are, and I tend to agree. Once you have done these, you probably consider the expansion to be over, and you move into whatever your end-of-expansion game mode is — messing with alts, farming gold, unsubscribing for a bit, or just pulling back on your game time.

But Legion seems to have thrown in an entirely new leveling process, between reaching max character level and being “ready” for real end game activities. Think about it — once you reach 110 and before you are really prepared to do end game activities like raiding or M+ dungeons, you need to:

  • Increase your ilevel (this is not new)
  • Farm AP to get your artifact weapon to a high enough level to select relic traits
  • Do the Broken Shore and Argus quest lines to be able to farm higher AP tokens and gear rewards.
  • Do most of your class hall quest line in order to complete things like the BS and Argus quest lines, and in order to have the right number and level of champions to do the required missions for BS/Argus completion, and so as to be able to equip 2 legendaries.
  • For some classes and professions, you have to do at least part of the Suramar quest line.
  • Chase legendaries until you get two adequate ones

It is really only after you have done the things listed that you are truly ready for Legion end game. Blizz has indeed introduced — I guess in the name of “content” — a new tier of requirements in order to get to the end game, call it “Leveling Stage 2”, after initial leveling. It is a stealth leveling requirement.

Worse, the requirements for this new leveling tier are confusing and they vary according to class. In typical fashion, Blizz has opted to leave them a tangled, obscure mess, and instead left all user help in the hands of third parties. I defy anyone to go through the processes listed above without consulting any outside guide or assistance from friends/guildies, even if you have already done it once.

Of course, depending on their end game goals, not every player needs to go through all the steps above. But, again, without a lot of outside guidance, it is impossible to know which steps are required for a certain goal and which ones may be skipped. How many times have you wanted to start a quest line that you are interested in, only to be unable to start it until you figure out which quest line or achievement is a prerequisite for it, and then have to go back and find out how to finish that one before you start the one you are really interested in? (And holy moly, was that ever a run-on sentence!)

The LS2 process, I maintain, is deliberately confusing and vague, so as to squeeze out more MAU over the course of the expansion. Blizz does not want players to know exactly what they must do next in order to play for their own expansion goals. They want players to spend time chasing unimportant (to the player) quest lines. And the longer it takes a player to feel like they have finally reached their end game, the longer they consider the expansion viable.

I suppose, just as societies become more complex and thus extend the length of childhood and young adulthood, so too WoW becomes more complex as it ages and thus extends the leveling process. Or maybe Blizz is just playing (end) games with us. I don’t know. But I do know that Legion has given us the virtual equivalent of teenage years, where we are neither still leveling, nor ready for real end game activities.